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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > December 2013 > Beware of Scam Charities This Holiday Season

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Beware of Scam Charities This Holiday Season

Many consumers plan to spread the joy of the holiday season by donating to various charities. Unfortunately, many scammers plan to take advantage of consumers’ generosity by posing as legitimate charities and accepting “donations.” Before donating this holiday season, research the charities that you plan to help and learn the warning signs of a scam. 

Consumers are often asked to donate money during the holidays. If you are contacted by an unfamiliar charity, take a moment to investigate before you contribute. Call the charity at a telephone number that you know belongs to the charity. A reputable organization will welcome inquiries.
When a charitable organization calls you seeking a donation, the caller must provide the name of the charity and the location of its principal place of business. Professional solicitors calling on behalf of an organization must also provide this basic information about the charity.
Here are some warning signs that a charitable request might be fraudulent:
  • The charity’s name is similar to a well-known, nationally recognized charity.
  • Callers use high-pressure tactics to request immediate donations.
  • The caller is hesitant or unable to answer questions about the charity.
  • The caller offers prizes in return for a donation.
  • The caller requests that checks be made payable to a person instead of the charity.
Learning about an organization and its activities can help donors make wise giving decisions. Before donating to a charity, consider using the following resources to do some research:
  • Ohio law requires charitable organizations and professional solicitors operating in Ohio to register with the Attorney General’s Office. Both must annually file informational returns or financial reports. Before donating to a charity, consumers should search the AG’s charitable database to determine whether the organization is registered and current.
  • The IRS’ Exempt Organizations Select Check can be used to verify if an organization has a valid 501(c)(3) or other tax-exempt designation. The IRS also lists organizations that have had their tax-exempt status revoked.
  • The organization’s IRS Form 990 return can be viewed on Guidestar. A free registration process is required to access the reports. The 990 will include information on how the group raises and uses its funds as well as other operational details about the group. Important details to pay attention to: the percent of expenditures used on program expenses rather than management and fundraising expenses; descriptions of programs and expenses, especially reported information about travel and compensation levels; and self-dealing transactions between the charity and one or more of its’ directors.
If you need additional information about a charity or want to file a complaint about a questionable organization, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or